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Adapt (with more pics!)

As we prepared to leave Zambia last summer, we also began processing what our new life and ministry based in the States would look like. There would be changes, yes. And in our last blog, we talked about some of those changes. But how does one prepare for so many changes?

There are many great and very spiritual answers. But I keep coming back to this truth: being a missionary means being adaptable. We had countless opportunities to learn this over our 8 years in Zambia – when things didn’t go how we expected. Or 99.999% of life looked different than we’re used to. Or we were forced to live and cook and minister with less than we thought we needed. And the list goes on.

I remember telling some friends in Zambia just before we left that I was counting on this learned strength – being adaptable – to help get us through all the change. And now that we have been back in the States for 4 1/2 months (only?!), I can say that it has helped tremendously! All that stretching and growth wasn’t for nothing, and I’m confident that this is the tip of the iceberg with how God will use all the ways we were pulled and pushed and molded in Zambia to help both us and others.

Here are some pics of how we have been learning recently to adapt to our new home!

Hugging their snowman (who desperately needs to see a dentist!)

Going to Handel’s Messiah at the Basilica

We are often the only ones at the park, but it’s a great way for the boys to burn that energy!

Celebrating Christmas with our families

Celebrating my dad’s 70th birthday with all my siblings and their spouses!

School Christmas activities

Learning to love playing in cold weather

When life gives you snow, get out the shovel!

Playing with dump trucks and cement mixers in the snow

A great experience for Charlie and me to serve together

Serving the vulnerable with my family through Feed My Starving Children

Charlie’s new favorite discovery – mayonnaise! He and Sam are making their sandwiches…with way too much mayo!

Life as we know it in cold Minnesota – bundle up wherever we go!

Charlie said, “I want everyone to know that we are a Zambian family.” Donning their Zambians scarves and hats.

Never Give Up – Lessons from 2 Corinthians (God’s Design in Hard Times)

Life is fraught with hard moments, hard days, and hard times. The temptation to want to give up can be strong and alluring. But statistics warn against giving up when the going gets tough. Many people miss out on the fruit of their labors if they give up in the hard times.

But more importantly than the warning of statistics, God lovingly, gently, kindly warns us to not give up. The apostle Paul was an expert at going through hard times. In fact, I wonder if there was ever a time in his post-conversion life that was not hard! And he did not give up. He was certainly tempted to despair. But he did not.

And, thankfully!, he shared some of the things he learned about going through hard times and what God is up to in our lives that helps give meaning and purpose to those hard days.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9

  • The feeling: “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.”
  • The meaning: “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-11, 16-18

  • The feeling: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus,”
  • The meaning: “So that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our moral flesh…So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9

  • The situation: “A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me (Satan’s design), to keep me from becoming conceited (God’s design). Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.”
  • The meaning: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Praise God for this kind of help, hope, and insight into the hard times! Now, I just need to keep on preaching it to myself.

Thoughts on Being in Zambia for Five Years

DSC01235Us with John and Eta on January 21, 2011. One of our earliest pictures here. 

Yesterday, January 17th, marked our five year anniversary of coming back to Zambia. Including our time five years earlier as singles, we have now lived in Zambia for 6 1/2 years. To commemorate our five year anniversary, I have five thoughts about our five years:

  1. Living cross-culturally is hard. No matter how much of an advertuous or easy going person you are, living cross-culturally is just hard, and it’s a hard adjustment and one that never stops. It can be even harder if the culture you crossed into is in the developing world. Not only are you adjusting to a new culture, which is weird and strange, but you are adjusting to a new way of life, a life of uncertainties – government problems and corruption, water issues, electricity issues, crime, where to get your car fixed, is the grocery store going to have this or that, bad roads, etc. When you live cross-culturally, you never stop learning and you never arrive. You peel back one layer, and you realize there are many, many more. The longer we are here, the more I feel that I don’t know very much about this culture. And how could I? We’ve only been here five years!
  2. Being a missionary is to constantly be and live in transition. If you became a missionary to have a life of stability, you should probably think about changing vocations. In the time that Kristin and I have been back on the field, we’ve seen three missionary units leave that were here when we came. Two have come and gone during our five years here. And now two more have come. I’m not saying that people coming and going is necessarily bad. People sign up for set times, life happens, and people feel that God is calling them elsewhere. But all that to say, being a missionary means a lot of transition. Then, on top of just people on your team, you have all the transitions in the country (in our case, Zambia) – presidents/government, the Kwacha (our currency here) getting rebased, prices going up and down by 50-100%, new regulations about a host of things, no power for eight hours a day, etc, etc.
  3. Having kids on the field is challenging. Kristin and I came back to field in January 2011 without any children. Now, five years later, we have two boys. Our first year back in 2011, we did ministry and life together. Now, I go out and do ministry, and Kristin stays with the boys at home. That’s been and continues to be hard for us. We love these two little guys and are so thankful for them. But with only having one vehicle and living behind an 8-foot wall with a 2-foot tall electric fence on top of that, it can start to feel pretty isolating for Kristin and the boys. Obviously, there are pros and cons to having kids before or after you come to the field, and each family is different in what they would prefer. But it has been a challenge for us and a big adjustment. Also, in our five years, we’ve had two home assignments that last about 4 1/2 months each. Trying to pack in seeing family, friends, supporters, supporting churches, and having a baby during each of those times is pretty exhausting. Our advice, which we’ve heard from many others as well, is that if you need to go back to your home country to have a baby, just go back and do that! 🙂 Schedule your actual home assignment time for another time.
  4. Do I really get to do this? Even though Zambia and living here has its challenges. There are still so many times when I’m driving on crazy roads, in crazy traffic, sitting in some impoverished compound/slum teaching, fellowshipping with a local pastor here, talking with other missionaries, seeing the beauty of Zambia, admiring something about the culture here, seeing lightbulbs come on in people’s hearts and minds as they study the Word, that I think, “Wow! Do I really get do this for a living? For a ministry?!” We feel very privileged and blessed that God has called us to Zambia, and we pray that we are glorifying Him in our ministry here.
  5. Time is weird here. We have been back here five years, but why does it feel like it should be 15 or 20 by now. One time, I said, “Time moves really fast here, in an excruciatingly slow sort of way.” I feel like every day goes by so fast, but then when I think back to an event that happened two weeks ago, it always feels like that was months ago. How could it have happened only two weeks ago?! I don’t know why that is the case for me. Maybe because the weather in Zambia is so similar – it’s sunny, it may rain once in a while during raining season, it is hot, or it is a little cooler. The seasons are not as defined here, and we really only have three seasons, instead of four. But I actually think this time phenomena is because there is so much unpredictability here and is related to always living in transition.

Well, there’s a lot more that could be said and more thoughts to write, but there you have my five thoughts on being here for five years. We want to thank all of you so much who are praying for us and supporting us here!!

I guess I have one more final thought, or set of thoughts. I am thankful for Christ and his work in my life these past five years. I’m thankful for my wife and kids that are amazing, and whom I love so much. I’m thankful for this ACTION Zambia Team and the ministries that God has called us to here in Zambia – to help strengthen the local Church. And I’m thankful that we are called to serve in Zambia.

DSC_3980 (1)

Sweet Sam

Until the day I die, I will probably be saying, “It’s better late than never!” And this video about our sweet Sam is WAY better late than never. We hope you enjoy a few recent clips of our 6-month old, smiling, easy going, happy, second born Sam.

The first clip is of Charlie and Sam in their “tent” under the dining room table. The second is of Charlie and Sam showing off their silly evening antics at the dinner table – and how Sam has grown to adore Charlie, and Charlie loves to show off for Sam. And the last one is…well, you’ll just have to let him melt your heart like he does ours every day.

From Astronaut to Nurse

My parents, God bless them, never said that I couldn’t achieve greatness or shouldn’t dream big dreams. They instilled in me a confidence that fostered this. And I hope to do the same for Charlie and Sam.

When I was young, I had all sorts of dreams and aspirations of what I wanted to be when I grew up – Olympic figure skater, the first US female president, an astronaut, brain surgeon, lawyer, soccer player, and the list goes on.

I ended up becoming a wife, mom, and nurse. And I couldn’t be happier.

Happy Nurse’s Week!



“Jesus gave the Great Commission to his church almost 2,000 years ago. He clearly instructed us to make disciples in every people group, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey everything he has commanded. After all these years, more than half of the world’s people groups remain unreached, representing more than one-third of the world’s population. The challenge to reach every people group as quickly as possible resonates in our hearts and prayers, and reverberates in missions conferences. We must reach the unreached because no one can be saved without the gospel.

But subsequent questions easily divide and distract us in our efforts to obey the Great Commission. What does it mean to reach the unreached? What does a reached group look like? And does a people group need any more missionaries once they are reached? Should I feel guilty or mistaken if I believe God is calling me to a group that some consider reached? Discussions about such questions often become more emotional than missiological.

The definition that missiologists often use to describe the term “unreached” is something along the lines of those ethnolinguistic people groups whose population is less than 2 percent evangelical, or those groups without a sufficiently strong presence of New Testament churches or numbers of Christians who could carry on the work without outside help. This percentage metric was devised by missiologists simply to have a commonly embraced benchmark to assist them in talking about levels of evangelical Christianity in various missions contexts. However, it was quickly adopted more broadly as a useful way of discerning which groups had the least presence of Christianity and therefore priority targets for missionaries. Indeed, some even used it to decide where missionaries should go to serve, and when others should leave ministries and redeploy elsewhere.

Certainly those groups with populations that are less than 2 percent evangelical must hear the gospel, and we should use all haste to reach them. Carl F. H. Henry said that the gospel is only good news if it gets there in time. Sadly, for about 50,000 people in unreached people groups every day, it does not.

Crucial Questions and Answers

Still, many questions remain unanswered. If a group is more than 2 percent evangelical, that is if it is not unreached, may we call it “reached”? Does reached mean that missionaries should not be there, that the work is considered complete and should be handed off to nationals? What about people groups that have been saturated in animism or some false world religion for centuries that subsequently embrace a gospel presentation? Haiti comes to mind—though the majority claim to be believers, a greater majority still practice voodoo. One thinks of Rwanda that had more than 90 percent baptized Christians when the worst genocide our age has known broke out; almost 1 million were slaughtered by other “reached” Christians. The lifelong task of discipleship should indeed be handed off to the national church, but only after they have been discipled.

Certainly most would agree that faithful obedience to the Great Commission and reaching the unreached is more than a matter of speaking the gospel message and moving on. But how much more? Jesus answered that question. He said to teach them to obey all he has commanded. That statement must not be abbreviated. The task of the Great Commission cannot be compared to running through a large darkened building, flipping on a few switches and announcing that they now have light even though thousands of other rooms leave most people in darkness. If that is all one understands reaching the unreached to mean, then we must agree that the great tragedy of the world today is not that it is unreached, but that it is undiscipled.

We have unintentionally created the erroneous perception that missions equals reaching the unreached. If one’s efforts consist of flipping on light switches and then hurrying to the next darkened room, that is not the Great Commission; it’s only half of what we have been commanded to do. Jesus said we are to teach them to observe all that he has commanded.

What, then, is missions all about? We are to strive to know God and to make him known. We are to reach the unreached and teach the disciples. The role of the Western missionary is often seen to be simply reaching the unreached, flipping on light switches, then leaving the discipling and teaching task to the national church. However, when the national church has not received deep discipleship, theological education, or pastoral training, the teaching cannot be handed off to them. The 1 Timothy 3 admonition that a pastor should be apt to teach does not just mean that he knows how to teach, it also means that he knows what to teach.

Teach Them Sound Doctrine

God has greatly blessed the churches of the West with centuries of Christian reflection on revealed truth. Western theologians and biblical scholars stand on the shoulders of all those who came before them, incorporating the insights revealed and lessons learned from schisms and heresies. All that God has providentially allowed or sent, and the ways that he has sovereignly guided the Western church, has resulted in what we Western believers understand evangelical Christianity to be. Wise stewardship must not treat this heritage lightly but should seek to share it in ways that are biblically faithful and culturally appropriate so that others may know. The core principle of discipleship is that the one who knows teaches the one who does not know (1 Tim. 2:2).

Every people group must have the Bible in a language they can understand. They should have biblically qualified and trained pastors. They should have their own theologians and authors who are well-equipped to reflect on the Scriptures in the context of their people’s worldview and write in their heart language. But this ideal world will not exist until we obey our commission to disciple disciplers, train trainers, and teach teachers. Nationals will one day be the best teachers, theologians, authors, and preachers for their national church—but only after they have been prepared. The background developed through generations of being steeped in pagan worldviews and false religions does not evaporate on praying a prayer of salvation. This is why Christ commanded us to disciple them.

Unchanging Truth in a Changing Culture

My grandfather taught my dad much about life, and my dad embraced this teaching, improved upon some of it, and then adapted it to the new methodologies of his generation before teaching me. Likewise, I learned their values and primary lessons but made adjustments to the world I live in to practice their wisdom faithfully. Many of the missionaries who brought the gospel to Europe had studied the writings of the early church fathers and learned from previous generations, but they made adjustments to embrace new languages and worldviews without changing the gospel. Music and liturgies the missionaries had learned in their past were often ineffective on newer mission fields. The Christianity that came to the New World continued to adapt and morph, but it has remained faithful to the original Word once for all delivered to the saints.

When missionaries share translated books, sermons, and lessons with peoples who have yet to prepare their own, they are not theological imperialists or imposing their particular beliefs on others. They are faithfully sharing truth they have learned with the full knowledge that their hearers will do the same. Reaching the unreached is a lifelong process. The pioneer missionary may begin the process and then change his approach to meet the evolving needs for the rest of his life, or he may plant a church and invite others to come behind him to do the deep discipleship and pastoral training. Teaching those we reach is not an optional component of missions. When Jesus said to teach them all he has commanded, he is saying, “Tell them all that I told you.”

Lost people of the world must hear the gospel to be saved. That is true whether they are in an unreached people group or not. Lost people in reached people groups are still lost, and everyone who dies in a lost condition will go to hell for eternity. Their only hope is to hear the gospel and repent. The task of missions is not simply to reach the unreached, allowing every missionary to define what that means for himself; it is reaching the lost and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded.”

David Sills serves as professor of missions and cultural anthropology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and is president of Reaching & Teaching International Ministries. Sills has also served with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in Ecuador as as church planter and general evangelist among the Highland Quichua people in the Andes, and as a seminary professor at the Ecuadorian Baptist Theological Seminary. He also served as rector and professor of the Baptist seminary as a missionary with Global Outreach International.

We’re Back and On the Move! First Stop – Mt. Pleasant, MI

Well, we jumped the last big hurdle of our second term – boarding 3 airplanes, hanging out in 2 airports, and crossing 1 ocean (for a grand total of 31 hours in transit) – and made it safely back to the States last Wednesday. It’s been a whirlwind since then of getting readjusted to America, switching time zones, getting caught up on appointments, and beginning to catch up with family and friends. And we can officially say that ice cream, cheese curds, fresh berries, lattes, bagels and cream cheese, family time, church, American roads, customer-comes-first service, and more are all as good as we remembered. It’s actually a bit overwhelming!

As even as we still adjust to being back, we are packing up to begin our first speaking “tour.” Our first stop is Mt. Pleasant, MI at my (Kristin’s) home church, First Baptist. We would love to connect with as many of you as possible, even though our time there will be short. But, if you’re able, please stop by on Sunday, when we will be speaking about our ministry over the last 2 years during Sunday School (9:30-10:30am), and then Derek will be preaching during the 10:45am service.

From there, we head to Indianapolis to spend time with family. And the following Sunday (September 21), we will be at Faith Community Church in Janesville, WI.

That covers the first part of our “tour,” and we’ll keep you updated on the next part of our “tour” schedule as it gets closer. It will be great to connect with as many of you as possible. Feel free to email or Facebook us with any questions. And please continue to pray for us as we put Charlie is the car for endless hours and stay in many homes and introduce our introverted Charlie to so many new people over the next 2 1/2 weeks. Thank you for all your prayers for us so far – God has already answered them in abundant ways! Now, we look to Him to do still more.